Tanaka Chidora Literature Today
I grew up surrounded by positive people who could rummage for positive things from a heap of debris. They could interpret every minuscule event of life and give it new positive meaning, and if they could not, they would assign it to some higher and divine authority who knew why things happened the way they did.
Let me tell you: it works. It makes us move in this life with big purpose in our heads. But when misfortune knocks at your door (not just some underlings of misfortune, but the bearded father of misfortune itself), you ask yourself what the bigger and more positive purpose of such a visit is.
This usually happens when you lose someone close. The questions that torture your mind cannot just be answered by waving the magic wand of positivity.
This is exactly why Voltaire’s “Candide” is an expedition of proving that life cannot be explained in such absolutist and positivist (only) terms which are represented by the unwavering Pangloss, an armchair philosopher who specialised in metaphysico-theologico-cosmoloononeyology, itself a parody that is meant to make us laugh at the big words that we use to describe big purpose when sometimes all we need is just to be alive.
Pangloss believes that all things in this world, the bad (death, illness, loss, earthquakes, accidents) and the good, are all the ingredients of the best of all possible worlds.
His argument is very convincing.
He says: “It is demonstrable . . . that things cannot be otherwise than as they are; for as all things have been created for some end, they must necessarily be created for the best end. Observe, for instance, the nose is created for spectacles, therefore we wear spectacles. The legs are visibly designed for trousers, accordingly we wear trousers. It is the nature of stones made to be hewn and made into castles, therefore My Lord has a magnificent castle; for the greatest baron in the land ought to be the best lodged. Pigs were intended to be eaten, therefore we eat pork all year round: and they, who assert that everything is right, do not express themselves correctly; they should say that everything is best” (pp. 1-2).
Already you can see the flaw in his argument, for the nose was not made for us to wear spectacles.
I wear spectacles and I can confess that they are a nuisance sometimes because they usually seem to get in the way.
This same Pangloss goes through absurdly horrendous troubles that include being shipwrecked, losing vital facial features to syphilis after a sexual union with a prostitute, and being enslaved.
At the end, after all these troubles, he still believes that whatever happened to him was supposed to be, because had it not happened, he wouldn’t have known the taste of pistachio nuts! I have to confess, Pangloss’s faith in the best of all possible worlds is what I need right now. After losing someone close, I am still rummaging the debris of the horrendous incident to find what the contribution of this loss to the best of all possible worlds is.
I am not a pessimist, but some of the things that happen to us cannot be explained using Pangloss’s philosophy. I remember someone preaching at a funeral and saying that the death of the departed was supposed to save the living from eternal damnation.
It was their moment to repent and avoid this eternal damnation. Pangloss would declare that the death was necessary; it was for the best of those who had stayed behind. But if that is the case, why does the best wait for the death of someone in order to happen? Will the dead gain from it?
I am so sad that the words that are making sense to me right now are found in one of Marechera’s mad verses: “Granite-bright sky,/the green tinctured gold/And beasts of amazing burden on the eye:/’Beauty’ and ‘Truth’ and ‘Soul’ are more words/To screen from view our irrelevance here./There is an excess in language which to our/Disadvantage seeks to protect us from the fathomless/Process.”
These are the words that are speaking to me right now. Maybe after some time Pangloss’s excessive positivity will tiptoe back into my crushed heart and put back together the fragments of it. But at the moment all I have are debris for a heart, a heart that once housed numerous explanations for why things happen the way they do. But for this one event I have no explanation. For the first time in my life, I face a real crisis of belief. There are words that we offer those who are in sorrow that we think can work because we haven’t put on their shoes.
Back to my question: why do these things happen?
At the moment I do not have an answer. For someone who has lost a close person, I cannot say his departure is for the best of all possible worlds because for me and his spouse and children, the best of all possible worlds existed with him.
When he departed he took it with him and left us to deal with the grievous effects of loss.
Maybe the reason is yet to dawn on us; maybe a few months or years from now we will know why it happened. But for now we do not know.
And it is not yet easy to embrace the best of all possible worlds discourse.
For now, I am one with Voltaire’s Old Woman, the Pope’s daughter, who plods through life’s vicissitudes because she is a secret that should not be known.
I am one with her because after being raped by one hundred men, after being enslaved, and after losing a buttock to cannibals, she asserts that she did not commit suicide, not because she feared eternal damnation, but because human beings, no matter the terrible things that happen to them, love to be alive. Maybe that is our purpose: to be alive, and to die, and to remain on earth as stories that will be told.
My brother, Simbisai Maurise, rest brother.